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Monthly Archives: May 2010

On Monday we, as a nation, will celebrate Memorial Day.  The day means parades, cookouts, and amusement parks to most of us.  We enjoy a day off work to spend with family and friends at the cusp of spring and summer.  It makes for a wonderful time.

But, as you celebrate the day, I encourage all of my readers to take at least a few moments to stop and think of what the day means.  Remember, give thanks, and, if it is your way, pray.

This country did not come to be out of thin air.  It has taken the blood of patriots to build this nation.  I know there are many that think that the United States may not be the shining light on the hill that it once was, but I challenge you to find a place on Earth more dedicated to the cause of freedom.  And that freedom has been bought and paid for by the brave citizens and soldiers who have taken up arms in defense of the concepts of freedom and liberty around the world.

A day like Memorial Day, as focused as it is on the military, will draw a great deal of political commentary.  Politicians, activists, and commentators of every stripe will rail both for and against every conflict we are currently involved in and have been since time immemorial.  One side will rail that we have no business being involved where we have become involved.  Another will scream that we must intervene when freedom and liberty are threatened.  Still others will pound their drums and chant that American soldiers should not be dying in what are foreign conflicts.

I have one thing to say to all of them, to anyone who has these things to say: for one day SHUT UP!

I don’t want to hear about where, when, and how we should or should not be fighting.  I don’t want the hear about the political, economic, and cultural ramifications of action versus inaction.  We can turn back to the debates and te shouting matches on Tuesday.  For one day, a single 24 hour period, please, quiet the noise.

Memorial day is a day for solemnity, not continuation of shrill discourse.

No matter what you think of the conflict, whether you agree or disagree with our involvement, whatever your opinions on the motivations for our presence, put it all aside.  

Stop.  Remember.  Pray.

Men and women put on the uniform of this country every day and put themselves at risk.  They don’t do this because they want to.  They don’t want to be separated from their families.  They don’t want to miss the little moments and big events.  But, they believe that there are things that are worth fighting for.

These men and women don’t fight for a political party.  They don’t strap on boots and heavy packs and walk through territory that is hostile in every respect for some speech.  They don’t face the withering assaults of enemy combatants for a corporate bottom line.  They just try to make it through each day so they can once again hold their loved ones.

I have the deepest respect for American soldiers.  They sacrifice all to defend us.  And, for me, Memorial Day will be a day that I pray for the fallen and those still in harm’s way, thank those who have fought and returned home, and remember that being a true American can be difficult.

But that, my friends, is that makes us great.

Hello, everyone.

The heat has definitely begun to infiltrate PA as we move toward a holiday weekend.  Perfect weather to escape into a dark, cool movie theater for a few hours.  The question is, what movie to see?

Well, as always, your faithful MovieDruid is here to take you by the hand and guide you through the national releases of the week.  Let’s take a look…

“Sex and the City 2”

Trailer

Synopsis: The continuing story of Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha as they struggle to manage their love lives, friendships and careers in New York City.

MovieDruid’s Comments:  I was never an avid watcher of “Sex and the City.”  Generally it is not my kind of show.  On the other hand, Sarah Jessica Parker (“Striking Distance” & “Mars Attacks”) and Kim Cattrall (“The Ghost Writer” & “15 Minutes”) are both gifted actresses, and thus I would often pause and catch on odd episode in the days when I had HBO.  The quality of the program was definitely there, especially in the chemistry in the key cast members.  And, from what I understand this definitely carried over into the first film.  Whether the property has enough juice to carry a second feature film remains to be seen, but based on what I have seen of the film and its fans I would guess this should be a decent ride.

“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” – MovieDruid Pick of the Week

Trailer

Synopsis: From the team that brought the “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy to the big screen, Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films present Prince of Persia: The Sands Of Time, an epic action-adventure set in the mystical lands of Persia. A rogue prince reluctantly joins forces with a mysterious princess and together, they race against dark forces to safeguard an ancient dagger capable of releasing the Sands of Time-a gift from the gods that can reverse time and allow its possessor to rule the world.

MovieDruid’s Comments: Ahhh…the videogame movie.  So much can go wrong, so much can go right.  At least Disney had enough sense not to hire Uwe Boll to direct this one.  The Prince of Persia franchise has been a favorite of gamers since 1989.  As a film, this one has a decent pedigree.  The director, Mike Newell has a depth of experience that includes “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” “Pushing Tin,” and “Donnie Brasco.”  This wide range shows he has a talent not just for an effects driven piece, an important piece here, but also with character driven films which is important for any film.  The cast is fairly solid with Jake Gyllehaal (“Rendition” & “Donnie Darko”), Gemma Arterton (“RockNRolla” & “Quantum of Solace”), Ben Kingsley (“Lucky # Slevin” & “Death and the Maiden”), Alfred Molina (“Spider-Man 2” & “Identity”) all part of the project.  I have high hopes for this one, but go in with the same trepidation I have when approaching any video game film.  Here’s hoping they get this one right.

As a child, there were few things that were guaranteed to be quite as boredom filled as a trip to the grocery store.  From my low altitude viewpoint the store seemed massive, with a seemingly endless number of aisles.  And I knew in my heart of hearts that I was destined to go up and down every single one of them.  The endless parade of cans, bags, and bottles did very little to amuse.

It was bad enough when I was young and was forced to ride in the cart’s child seat.  This was a ride that lost its novelty approximately ten seconds after it began.  But, being the oldest of three siblings, I was soon banished from the cart.  Of course, once this happened I wanted to be in the cart, riding in the basket or hanging onto the back, but my mother refused under most circumstances citing draconian safety rules and the like.

No, rather than this I was forced to make the childhood equivalent of the Bataan Death March through row after row.  Wander too far and a quick reprimand pulled you back.  In fact, any fun at all was frowned upon.  Such frivolity was “embarrassing.”  I wasn’t sure who exactly was embarrassed.  It certainly wasn’t me, I was having fun.

I was often bribed on the way into the store by being told that “if I behave” then I could partake of one of the most magical devices in the world for a kid.  Forget the novelty vending machines of today, I haven’t seen the like of these in years.  A glass enclosure held the figure of a chicken below which wa sa veritable sea of plastic eggs.  Every egg held a magical promise.  We, as kids, coveted those eggs.  They were better than the lost city of El Dorado, the Holy Grail, and the Fountain of Youth combined.

And I had to “behave” to earn one.

Needless to say, I rarely held one of these treasures.  My mother was a supremely patient woman, I know this now.  I just was not cut out to be a kid in a grocery store.  It’s not that I didn’t want to behave.  There was, after all, a plastic novelty egg on the line.  I just didn’t have the endurance for an entire Kroger or Dominick’s.

I did revolt against the system once, and only once.  In a fit of rage that my access to the clucking dispenser of treasure laden eggs was tied to something as subjective as good behavior I snapped.  It isn’t one of my brighter moments.  It’s not something that, in retrospect, I am proud of.  But, in a child’s mind a temper tantrum is a weapon.  A tantrum in the doorway leading out of the grocery store doubly so.

At the time I didn’t realize my mother had the Herculean strength and agility to carry me by one arm (feet off the pavement mind you) with one hand while steering a shopping cart full of groceries with the other.  I wasn’t cognizant of the fact that there was a fate worse than a failure to receive an egg.  I was a child, naive. 

Children, heed my wisdom, NEVER do this.  The results are not worth it.  And you may never see another treasure in your youth.

Much has been said over the centuries about what it is to be human.  I suppose it is natural for us to consider what it is to be people.  After all, I would imagine that moments when we catch our pets staring off into space they are actually contemplating the state of being that is “Canine” or “Feline.”  Or maybe there’s just something shiny, I can never be sure.

I think Shakespeare made one of the most interesting observations on the human experience when he, through one of his greatest characters, Hamlet, stated:

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals

However, we can dig deeper.  There are so many nuances to the human existence that examination can take countless twists and turns.

Take gender as an example, or more specifically the male gender.

Now, I can already hear the women in my audience groaning, expecting some sort of dissertation on how great guys are and how the women-folk couldn’t get along without us.  I actually believe quite the opposite.  We men are, in many ways, elder adolescents.  Without women to curb our tendencies we could get ourselves in no end of trouble and think it was the absolute funniest thing in the world.

But, I digress.  There is actually one aspect of being a male of the human species that I’d like to examine: the waiting.

You see, civilization has progressed in such a way that men have become consummate professionals in this regard.  We are trained in our early years to wait alongside our female counterparts when we must wait for Christmas or our birthday, or wait until dinner, etc.

But, at some point females begin some sort of secret training regime.  This training is invisible to the clueless males around which it is conducted.  Slowly, females learn how to turn themselves from the ones waiting to the ones waited for.  The change is so subtly accomplished that we, as men, don’t even realize what has happened until it is far too late.  Every man remembers the moment that they realize that women have turned this table upon them.  The experience has a universal quality, and while the details may vary the overall experience is the same.

You are picking her up for a first date.  The agreed upon time: 8:00.  Your arrival: 7:55.  Her appearance from the upper reaches of her home: between 8:30 and 8:45.  In the meantime, you are sweating.  You see, not only does she have you in her clutches, but there is another who knows that this is the case.  Her father.  He remembers this moment from his past and the knowledge of experience mix with the protectiveness of fatherhood in a toxic cocktail.  This is the single most uncomfortable conversation in the world.  He knows it.  She knows it.  And you have no power.

But, this is just the opening salvo.  As the tears go by you find yourself playing this waiting game over and over.  And it becomes sadistic at times.  The moment she hands you her purse as she shops is the moment you know you have completely and utterly lost.  Fight it if you will, the day will come. 

It even becomes generational if you have daughters.  Drive by any school of dance, gymnastics studio, or the like in the evening and your likely to see a huddled mass of fathers waiting.  The defeat flows off them in an almost visible cloud as they try to lend one another strength by not making eye contact.  Eye contact means you are admitting to another man you have lost, and he is doing the same.  Stoicism is the order of the day.

Yes, we wait.  We wait because we cannot help ourselves.  We wait because we know, deep inside, that without women we would just blow the whole place up.  And giggle.

Well, the long journey has ended.  Last night I took a final ride on the roller coaster was “Lost,” and bid it a bittersweet farewell.

I generally don’t like TV.  I don’t like dealing with what feels like 45 minutes of commercials in a 1 hour show.  I don’t like the dumbing down most writers do to their work before putting it on the air.  I don’t like the fact that so many of the networks will yank a show without a moments notice if it doesn’t take off like a rocket.  Television generally just doesn’t appeal to me.

But, somehow there was a weird synergy on that island.  Somehow intelligent people created an intelligent show that was not only a mind-trip from start to finish, but also managed to create characters I truly cared about.  And a lot of them.  Ensemble shows of this type so often fall into stereotypes or cardboard cutouts.  But these people were anything but two-dimensional.  I’ll miss them all, even the bad guys.

I think the thing I will miss the most is the camaraderie that “Lost ” created.  When you found out someone else was a fan of the show they were an immediate friend.  Deep discussions about the tiniest minutiae began spontaneously.  Ideas were shared, examined, and discarded or affixed to our understanding of the island.

So, thank you, to everyone involved in bringing us “Lost.”  Thank you for the hours I spent speculating with my wife and friends about the meaning behind everything.  Thank you for the quips that will forever pepper our communications with one another.  Thank you for giving me entertainment that challenged me intellectually rather than lulling me into a stupor.  You will be missed.  We already do miss you.  But, as you taught us:

“Live Together, Die Alone.”

P.S. I think you might have a little Arzt on ya.

As most know as a rule I generally stay away from religion and politics here at the Jungle Gym.  There are not two subjects out there that cause more animosity and ill will then those two.  And, quite frankly, I like you guys.  I don’t want to start arguments that lead to bad feelings.  That being said, however, I would like to skirt the edge of politics a bit here today.

This past Tuesday was Primary Day here in the state of Pennsylvania.  There were many notable contests, but the one that everyone was watching most closely was the race between incumbent senator Arlen Specter and his challenger for the Democratic nomination, Representative Joe Sestak.  The reasons for the focus on this race are many, but they really boil down to two things:

  • Specter has been a Senator for Pennsylvania for 30 years and at times has seemed nearly indestructible in the state from a political standpoint.

and

  • Specter changed party affiliations from Republican to Democrat in April 2009.

Specter and Sestak both ran vicious negative campaigns that eventually led to Sestak ousting the longtime senator and taking the nomination to face Republican Pat Toomey in the November General Election.

But, enough nuts and bolts of the situation.  The real point here is Specter lost, Specter deserved to lose, and Specter brought his troubles on himself.  I can say this with complete confidence, and I can do it without even delving into the gnarled hedge that is Specter’s form of governance.  The truth of the matter is that Specter took a look at the political landscape, and made a decision that called into question his integrity no matter what your thoughts on his politics are.

In early 2009 polling data in Pennsylvania was showing a decided lean toward Toomey over Specter in the Republican primary.  I put little faith in most polling data because it can be so easily manipulated, but there is a point where the numbers become large enough that they are difficult to ignore.  So, faced with almost assured defeat in May 2010 what did Specter do?  Did he rededicate himself to his constituents, making a point to make a connection with them and listening to what they have to say?  Did he begin making a point of highlighting his accomplishments and what he has done for the state?

Nope.  He looked around and saw a much weaker field on the other side of the aisle and jumped ship.

This was not an ideological move.  This was not about issues.  This was a move of pure self-preservation.  A calculated decision that was clearly Arlen looking out for Arlen. 

And that, to be quite honest, is a good chunk of the problem in the political system of this country today.  Our elected officials seem to have forgotten what they truly are: public servants.  They are not some elite class that looks down from an ivory tower and passes judgement upon us.  They are men and women we have selected to do the business of governance.  They are there to represent the interest of whatever constituency elected them.

Arlen should have been making decisions and moves for the people of Pennsylvania who have time and again put him in the position to do so.  His obligation was to put the citizens of this state first and foremost.  And, that, my friends, is what no politician seems to do anymore.  Our leaders no longer govern, they campaign 24/7/365.

Our governor, Ed Rendell, came out and claimed that “the rain killed Arlen” as our state experienced a relatively minor rainfall (and a truly ridiculous low voter turnout, see here for my thoughts on that).  Rain?  The rain had nothing to do with it.

Specter lost because the people lost their faith in him.  And that is a burden that falls squarely on his own shoulders.

Hello, everyone!

I know the summer movie season is begun with the release of blockbuster types like “Iron Man 2” and “Robin Hood” the last few weeks.  But this week….frankly I’m disappointed.  It’s almost as if Hollywood exhausted itself over the last two weeks of hype and now is taking a breather.

But, we have a duty here at the MovieDruid to report the weeks of junk as much as the weeks of the fantastic.  So, that being said let’s take a look….

“MacGruber”

Trailer

Synopsis: Only one American hero has earned the rank of Green Beret, Navy SEAL and Army Ranger. Just one operative has been awarded 16 purple hearts, 3 Congressional Medals of Honor and 7 presidential medals of bravery. And only one guy is man enough to still sport a mullet. In the 10 years since his fiancée was killed, special op MacGruber has sworn off a life of fighting crime with his bare hands. But when he learns that his country needs him to find a nuclear warhead that’s been stolen by his sworn enemy, Dieter Von Cunth, MacGruber figures he’s the only one tough enough for the job. Assembling an elite team of experts–Lt. Dixon Piper and Vicki St. Elmo–MacGruber will navigate an army of assassins to hunt down Cunth and bring him to justice. His methods may be unorthodox. His crime scenes may get messy. But if you want the world saved right, you call in MacGruber.

MovieDruid’s Comments: I understand the humor in parody, really I do.  But, this just doesn’t look funny.  For one thing why spoof “MacGyver” 18 years after it was cancelled.  I’m guessing there is a fairly sizable part of the younger portion of the target demographic that have never even heard of “MacGyver.”  I know they are probably mixing in some other properties as well, but it hardly seems to matter in this case.  It seems like almost all the quality talent in parody and satire have dried up in recent years and this is the sort of thing we are left with.  It’s a sad time if that’s the case.

“Shrek Forever After: The Final Chapter” – MovieDruid Pick of the Week

Trailer

Synopsis: After challenging an evil dragon, rescuing a beautiful princess and saving your in-laws’ kingdom, what’s an ogre to do? Well, if you’re Shrek, you suddenly wind up a domesticated family man. Instead of scaring villagers away like he used to, a reluctant Shrek now agrees to autograph pitch forks. What’s happened to this ogre’s roar? Longing for the days when he felt like a “real ogre,” Shrek is duped into signing a pact with the smooth-talking dealmaker, Rumpelstiltskin. Shrek suddenly finds himself in a twisted, alternate version of Far Far Away, where ogres are hunted, Rumpelstiltskin is king and Shrek and Fiona have never met.

MovieDruid’s Comments: Pick of the Week pretty much by default.  I can’t really bring myself to fully endorse a fourth “Shrek” movie, but at the same time I can’t completely discount it either.  Somehow I get enticed to the theater for each new Shrek installment and there always seems to be at least one aspect that makes me laugh.  They definitely have some solid talent involved in these films, so it is hard to imagine the thing being a total bust.  Still few franchises can maintain quality into a fourth film and comedy is even harder in that respect.  I know I’ll see this one at some point, but I imagine this is the one that gets to second-run or even DVD before I partake.

It is truly amazing how, in many ways, things turn around in life. 

When we’re in high school, the beautiful and athletic are the popular people.  And with that popularity comes power.  Of course, many at that age are unable to handle the power and let it go to their heads.  Cliques of girls and mobs of jocks rule America’s high schools simply by dictating the definition of what is and isn’t a path to popularity.

Those of us that fail to fit these molds within an exacting definition are relegated to lower castes.  From these social ghettos we gather together and form our own alliances and enemies.  The social strata that doomed us to the lower ranks are simply repeated in a twisted form as we create the same layers within our own communities.

In short, high school is hell.  You may look back on it fondly, but hindsight is too often rose-colored.

But, the funniest thing happens as we grow from adolescence to adulthood.  The lower echelons of the social strata begin to gain a certain degree of power in their own right.  No, we never become part of the teeming culture that the beautiful people continue to create, but the ghettos that we once inhabited begin to become something different.  They become dimly lit cities fed by endless streams of knowledge and data.

We begin to see that we have more control from the background than we ever could manage from within the gilded corridors of the shallow societies of the beautiful.  While they feed themselves on reality TV and gossip magazines, we whisper in the ears of the most powerful people on Earth.  We are the true machine that keeps things going and progressing.  And a smile crosses our faces from time to time.

For we realize, the phrase should be: “The GEEK shall inherit the Earth.”

As i mentioned yesterday, my wife and I spent the week in South Carolina last week enjoying the Grand Strand.  This, of course, entailed a bit of a drive to get down there since we reside in south-central Pennsylvania.  The drive itself wasn’t terribly bad except for a few snags here and there.  However, when you live in Pennsylvania there is one moment when you know you’re home.  You see the moment you cross the state line into PA from Maryland something interesting happens.

The quality of the roads goes straight to hell.

Now you might think this is an exaggeration, but I assure you it is not.  When you reach the famed Mason-Dixon line that marks the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania you can actually see the line on the road where the well-maintained blacktop of Maryland ends and the less than stellar asphalt of Pennsylvania begins.  It is truly an unbelievable sight.

One would think that PennDOT would have enough pride left in them that they would at least maintain a mile of two and let it fade into the rubble of the Pennsylvania interstate system rather than the harsh dividing line.  But, then again anyone who lives in Pennsylvania knows that PennDOT is an organization rife with graft, nepotism, and corruption.  Gotta love Pennsylvania politics.

Now, lest those who live outside the state think I am tossing about hyperbole I have an unbiased source to back me up.  Overdrive magazine, a publication for over the road truckers and the like, does an annual Highway Report Card of the roads across the country.  They rate individual highways best, worst, and most improved as well as giving overall ratings to the states.  Pennsylvania has regularly been first on the list of worst states.  There was a bright spot in 2010 as I-80 in Pennsylvania was voted most improved, but in spite of this the state as a whole is still rated worst in the 2010 Report Card.

I must say there is something comforting about being able to tell when you’re back in your home state even if your eyes are closed.  Who needs a sign welcoming you to Pennsylvania when we have our wonderful roads?

(As a humorous side note to this, three state senators recently proposed charging a toll of $1 for cars and $5 for trucks entering the state.  Yes, that’s right, they want to charge you for the privilege of driving on our crappy roads.)

I come to you today to give my deep apologies for the lack of updates recently.  I have tried to be fairly competent and consistent in my updating of things here at the Jungle Gym, but things haven’t always gone as planned.

This was one of those times.

My wife and I spent last week on vacation at the beach.  My father has a little place down by the water in South Carolina and we made the trek down to enjoy a week of relaxation.  My intention was to blog daily while down there and have no interruption to the invaluable insight that I offer you on a daily basis.  (Or, the rambling diatribes of a madman. Depends on your particular take on the situation, I suppose.)

But, as they say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.  Once I was actually ensconced in that luxurious place with the scent and sound of the beach around me and work and worry ten hours away. well, let’s just say motivation became a factor.  I didn’t forget about you guys, per se, I just suffered a mild disinclination to perform the requisite authorial duties related to the proprietorship of an internet-based editorial source.

Making things sound fancy always makes them sound better, huh?  Anyway…

The Jungle Gym will be back on schedule beginning today, and I will endeavor to not let it get away from me again.  The additional content pages (Victuals & Hootch, etc.) should also begin receiving updates again today.  I do most of my blogging at work during downtime and some recent changes to the internet filters here have made my life a little more difficult in that regard.  In particular they have, for some reason, cut my access to Google Docs, which many of you may know I use as a storehouse for archived content from those pages.  Thus, new content will begin to appear once again on schedule, but the Previous Entries will be updated later in the day when I arrive home for the evening.

I hope I haven’t alienated too many readers with the extended (and unannounced) hiatus.  For those of you who have continued to check each day, thanks for your support.  More people glance at the Jungle Gym than I can really account for, so I must either being doing something right or incredibly wrong and amusing enough to attract rubberneckers.

Either way, thanks for visiting.

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